Scientists Use DNA To Store 2.2 Petabytes Of Shakespeare’s Sonnets In One Gram

Scientists have used DNA to store 2.2 petabytes of Shakespeare’s sonnets in only one gram. Scientists “realized that DNA itself is a really efficient way of storing information” and they believe that DNA is the solution to archiving large amounts of data.

Ewan Birney and Nick Goldman are scientists from the European Bioinformatics Institute who were discussing a practical problem over beer. According to NPR, their institute manages a huge database of genetic information that houses the gene data for everything from humans to corn. Maintaining that data, and all the hard drives and the electricity used to power them, is getting pretty expensive. They realized that the DNA whose information they were storing could itself be the answer to their problem.

Since DNA is so fantastically efficient, researchers believe they can cram about 2.2 petabytes of information into a single gram of DNA:

“We recovered 757,051 bytes of information from 337 pg of DNA (above), giving an information storage density of ~2.2 PB/g (= 757,051/337 × 10-12).”

That’s remarkably better than today’s storage technologies. By comparison, a high end smartphone only holds about 64 gigabytes and the largest single hard drive is only four terabytes. A petabyte is one million gigabytes and thus it would take several hundred 3.5-inch 4TB hard drives to match the storage capacity of one measly gram of DNA. I’m not sure what these artificial DNA strands would need to maintain data integrity, but I cannot imagine that feeding this particular data beast would be too expensive in comparison.

Unfortunately, this particular technique is not intended for implementation in your latest iPhone 6. According to their paper on Nature they see it useful only for long-term storage:

“Theoretical analysis indicates that our DNA-based storage scheme could be scaled far beyond current global information volumes and offers a realistic technology for large-scale, long-term and infrequently accessed digital archiving. In fact, current trends in technological advances are reducing DNA synthesis costs at a pace that should make our scheme cost-effective for sub-50-year archiving within a decade.”

What do you think about the power of DNA informational capacity now that you’ve seen how biology compares to man-made technology?